Release

p1000386-1024x666I had a lovely solo ritual last evening, to celebrate the autumn equinox. As the sun set, I meditated on the changing colours in the sky, on the harvest that has taken place, the wheat and corn crops taken in, the onions and turnips. The fields are still being tended, ploughed for winter veg, seeding with potatoes and other root crops. The sounds of work in the fields is still going on, even as the evening dog walkers pick blackberries and apples from the hedgerows. It’s a strange time of both noise and stillness, when the swifts and house martins have mostly left, the skies seeming emptier for it. The dawn chorus is softer, the evening calls less urgent.

The times of the festivals have an effect on me, physically as well as spiritually. At these strong points in the year, I often feel at odds, not quite in this realm or any other. At Beltane, my head felt like it was being pressed in on all sides as we spent time at the local tumuli. Yesterday, and the day before, I felt dizzy, sometimes faint as it seemed the energy was swirling around me yet again. Being very susceptible to pressure changes in the air, I feel I’m becoming even more sensitive to energies unseen that roil and swirl around this little sphere hurtling through space.

I love autumn. I love the energy that it brings, a quiet, soft, energy: a release. It seems that all summer long, from Beltane onwards there has been a swift build-up of energy that it seeking its release. Some of it goes at midsummer, but most of it is contained, helping to ripen the harvest fruits. It’s at this time of year, when the fruits fall, that the energy is released, the potential lying still and quiet in the seeds, ready for winter’s dreaming.

And so at last night’s ritual, I began with meditation, and then did the ritual in my usual way, scattering leaves and saying words of my appreciation for the season and the harvest around my circle. I also prayed for peace, a deep, heartfelt prayer, as well as doing five earth touchings. I then meditated again, the sun having set, feeling the balance between darkness and light. I opened my self to what I needed to learn over the long dark nights of approaching winter, widening my perspective, allowing nature to guide me. Instantly, one word rang through my head: forgiveness.

Taking inspiration from nature, I thought about forgiveness. If any ecosystem held a grudge, then it would fail. Trees continue to provide us with oxygen, despite us decimating their population. Herbs continue to grow, despite humanity’s propensity for herbicides. The rain falls, the sun shines, and we still reap the rewards that this world has to offer each and every day. If we could only do the same, if we could only learn true forgiveness, then this world would be a much better place.

I thought that I was pretty good at forgiveness. I’ve forgiven people in my life who have caused me to suffer. But taking a deeper look, my forgiveness wasn’t all-encompassing. I needed to release the anger and hate, like the leaf falls from the tree, like the leaves that lay scattered all around me in my ritual circle.

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do for us humans. We often equate forgiveness with weakness, seeing it as a relinquishing of power. Those who forgive, we think, are only setting themselves up for more grief from those who would cause them to suffer. They’re doormats.

What we don’t realise is the exquisite power of forgiveness. When we can truly forgive, we can move on with our own lives. This doesn’t mean that we condone bad behaviour; far from it. We can still stand up for ourselves, speak out against injustices. We will still face struggles with people in our lives. But we can suffer less in ourselves, if we can forgive.

But we don’t want to. We want the other person to suffer, for all the hurt that they have done to us and to others. If we forgive, we think that they’ve been left off the hook. This most certainly isn’t the case. Everyone is accountable for their actions, everyone has a responsibility for their own life. We can’t force anyone to accept this, of course, but we can set the example for others. And when others don’t follow our example, we shrug and move on, knowing that we have, at the very least, stopped the suffering in ourselves.

But we want to change people. We want to stop people who are hurting others, and rightly so. So we can stand up for what is right, remembering that there is more than one right. We can also forgive, because everyone is suffering in some form or other. Whether willingly or not, when someone is causing another being harm, they are suffering deep inside from some affliction that we may never realise. They are fighting their own battles. We must set the example.

That doesn’t mean that we’re going to suddenly start liking these people. But we can allow the power of compassion to flow freely, to stop the pain in our lives, and when we do it begins to radiate outwards, like rings of water in a still pond. We’re not going to take any crap, but equally we’re not going to allow any crap that comes our way to cause us to suffer, to continue to make us crazy, hurt or bitter. We’re going to remain open, calm and filled with love for this planet, and in doing so understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

We’re also going to forgive ourselves. In doing so, we find peace. We’ve all screwed up, we’ve all caused pain at some point. We need to release that in order to function properly. We accept responsibility for our actions, and ensure that we never do it again. We strive to be better people, to make the world a better place.

Some would query whether it is truly possible for any human being to really forgive. I’ve thought about this myself. As such emotionally biased creatures, are we able to set aside our skewed perceptions of any given situation? In the attempt to do so, at the very least, is the heart of compassion. In the striving to do so, we rise to the challenge.

So my ritual last night was filled with my home environment providing me with the awen on the nature of forgiveness, compassion and love. And as I sat in the growing darkness, the cool soft breeze playing around me, I whispered these four words: I welcome the darkness.

 

Reblog: Wild Things

This is a reblog of today’s post from my channel at SageWoman Magazine’s section of Witches and Pagans. To read the full article, click HERE.

Wild Things

I had an email this morning from a reader thanking me for my book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, which is always a lovely thing to hear – do write to authors you like and support them! – and who also had some very good questions, apprehensions and fears about walking the wilds of Maryland, USA, safely and as a Druid, in cougar and bear country.

I used to live in North Vancouver, and took precautions every time I went out into the wild. I always had a hunting knife, not only for defence, but also in case I got lost, needed to make a fire, etc. What sort of Pagan goes into cougar and bear-infested woods armed? A smart one! Not that we would want to use any weapons, but that we know that nature is not necessarily always working for the sole purpose of being kind to humanity. Nature has its own modus operandi, as we know, for we too are a part of that nature.

What I would recommend to anyone anxious about going out into the wilds, is to keep walking the same paths, get to know the area intimately, cougars, bears and all. Go prepared. Go armed, if you need to, and as per the laws of your country, state, province or county. Know how to use that weapon properly, and be aware of all the safety precautions necessary to carry such a thing responsibly. Our own claws and fangs have become pretty poor weapons of self-defence. And so we developed new ones.

Become a part of that landscape, not just a “tourist” but someone who is there every day, just as the birds and beetles are. The reader really wanted to meditate out in the wilds, but felt a great apprehension in doing so, quite rightly. The best thing would be to take someone with you, especially if you want to meditate in cougar country. Having someone watch over you is a very good idea. I would imagine that if you can’t get someone to come with you, then making a fire would keep many wild beasts away, but this isn’t a failsafe method. Meditation is also not always something that detaches you from the world; you can try to meditate with your eyes open, awake and aware to everything around you. That is, indeed, a very Zen form of meditation! Or try a form of walking, wakeful meditation, where you are not so much of a “sitting duck”, so to speak. The pagan author Starhawk in her book The Earth Path talks of walking out in nature with an open awareness, which is again another form of meditation that isn’t a detachment from the world, but rather integration with it.

Wild animals can always surprise us, by sheer accident and not necessarily by stalking us as a snack. For example, snakes always surprise me when I’m out walking. First glance always makes me jump! I live in adder country, here in the UK, and the adder is probably our most dangerous animal (being the only poisonous snake, and is usually stepped on by accident by people wearing flip-flops while walking out on the heathland – sigh). But when I encounter one, I simply take a couple of steps back, smile to myself and the snake, and find another way around. I look where I’m walking, awake and aware to any sunny spots on the path where they might be basking. I also wear good, sturdy hiking boots. I’m sure the snake felt exactly the same shock and surprise when a human nearly stepped on her, and is appreciative of the space that I gave her afterwards! They are such beautiful creatures…

Continued HERE

Remembering your story

I’ve just had a lovely two week vacation, not only from work but also from my computer. It’s essential, in my opinion, to detach one’s self from the constant noise and hub of media and communication, for however long a period, whether it’s a day or two weeks, a month or altogether. I’ve known people who have given up Facebook altogether, and been much happier for it. I can honestly say that I didn’t miss it at all on my two week vacation (no social media, no emails or online communication), and I actually dreaded going back on there today to check for messages. I know that I will be spending a lot less time on there from now on, as the pull and tug of getting into other people’s stories just isn’t all that appealing anymore. Heck, if I could give it up completely I would, but that would be marketing suicide for a mostly self-promoted, self-employed author.

Having two weeks to myself, spending time with myself and my family, has enabled me to see more clearly the stories that really matter to me. While most of social media is filled with noise, things that don’t really matter (alongside really great cat videos), it also has its benefits, such as putting us in touch with high school friends, keeping us up to date on our nephews’ first day at school, and so on. I do Facebook and Twitter, because I like to keep in touch with my family and friends that I physically can’t see, being 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic, as well as feeling obligated for business reasons. But the amount of noise on there is staggering.

We can get so lost in other people’s stories, in the noise that social media produces. Stories that are inconsequential to ours. Stories that have no relevance at all to our daily lives. Stories that have no meaning full stop. We fill our mind with them, drowning out the sound of our story, of our own life, or vainly trying to compare ours to this fictional recreation that social media has produced, which is entirely inaccurate to say the least. I am not my Facebook profile or pages, not by a long shot. Neither are my friends or family. It is a narrow window into one’s life, should one be honest about it, but only provides a miniscule view of the reality that is the whole.

My story is important, if only to myself. But I have to listen to it, in order to be able to change the story, should I so choose. While there are many external factors that help to decide how this story ends, there are also a lot that are completely within my control, if I am able to hear them. I feel an even deeper connection with myself than I had before, because I stopped filling my brain every morning with pictures of what other people had for breakfast, who’s pissed off for whatever reason, etc. I stopped the constant influx of other people’s stories. I feel more me.

I don’t have a smartphone that enable me to check emails and social media wherever I am. I have a mobile phone that lives in my car should I break down. I do all my emails and social media early in the morning, to get it out of the way so that I can get on with my work and my day. I honestly can’t imagine constantly checking on a smartphone for emails and Facebook; that thought is just too horrific for someone as unsocially mediated as myself. What little time I did spend on there, I now realised was for the most part a waste of time. And I haven’t got time to waste. There are weeds to be pulled in the garden, walks to be taken, words to be written, cats to be played with, friends to visit, life to live.

Don’t be lured into the dulling effects of social media. Don’t be pulled into other people’s stories so that your own is neglected. Stay in touch, but don’t be a slave to social media or online communication. Your life is yours to live, so truly live it, don’t let it pass you by in a blur of emails or status updates. And above all, remember and rediscover your story.

 

The Stoic Druid – Part Three

The ancient Stoics typically adopted the traditional four cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. The main goal of the Stoic is to live in accordance with nature, or live in accordance with virtue. In my work on the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training Course I’ve been asked to think of examples, of people who inspire me in how they conduct themselves, in the way that they walk their talk. I’m also reminded of those people who I simply do not want to be, ruled by their shadow selves, causing destruction wherever they go.

Wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, are the cardinal virtues in Stoicism, and their opposites are vices. Epictetus sums up the key Stoic indifferents as “health, wealth, and reputation”. Your status in society, your bank account, your reputation, all these are matters that are not entirely under your control. If they are not under your control, then they are indifferent. Indifferents also don’t necessarily contribute or detract from your happiness and well-being, from your peace of mind. Some may be preferential over others, such as being healthy, but ultimately even if we are ill, we are still able to live as well as we can, with the Stoic virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. If we are ruled by our reactions to that which is indifferent, then we will never progress, instead living reactionary lives, ruled by our shadows, making bad decisions, treating others unfairly, becoming fearful and lashing out with bad behaviour.

From the online site Stoic Ethics, we have it summed up here:

“The Stoics elaborated a detailed taxonomy of virtue, dividing virtue into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness. Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing. Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness. Moderation is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self-control. Similarly, the Stoics divide vice into foolishness, injustice, cowardice, intemperance, and the rest. The Stoics further maintained that the virtues are inter-entailing and constitute a unity: to have one is to have them all. They held that the same virtuous mind is wise, just, courageous, and moderate. Thus, the virtuous person is disposed in a certain way with respect to each of the individual virtues. To support their doctrine of the unity of virtue, the Stoics offered an analogy: just as someone is both a poet and an orator and a general but is still one individual, so too the virtues are unified but apply to different spheres of action.”

This sits very well with my many years of studying Zen Buddhism. The notion of compassion is central to Zen Buddhism, and combined with the Western Stoic notion of virtue can make even more sense to the practitioner. I’m sure the Buddha would have loved to have had a chat with Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus!

At some points in our lives, we will all be faced by difficult challenges. How we rise to these challenges is what defines us, morally, spiritually, ethically. Our actions may not always bring about peace. We may be required to call people to account for their actions, or to stand up for another. We may have to do things we would prefer not to, to be uncomfortable, to make unpopular choices. But in staying true to nature, to the virtues, and working with compassion we ennoble our hearts and our souls in the journey of a life well-lived.

In my studies, after now having defined what the above virtues mean, and applied them to my own life, I’m moving on to suspending value judgements and towards what the Buddhist would call Right View, albeit in a Stoic context. It will be interesting to see how these two philosophies overlap, and where they differ. It should also be interesting at this point in my life as well, where I am called to challenge bad behaviour and try to cease further suffering by making a stand in certain areas. After having spent the last couple of weeks defining my goals in Week Two, I’m now moving once again into a deep study of my thought processes, reactions and behaviour in Week Three. Self-monitoring is always a fun, and very useful, exercise.🙂

Reblog: Lammas, Don’t Fear the Reaper

This is a reblog from my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare. To read the full article, click HERE.

The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.

Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks.

This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain. Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year. The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.

I love this time of year. The birds have fledged, and the muntjac deer are at the end of their mating season. The stag barks occasionally for his hind on the other side of the hedge, and this year’s badger family come to visit every night to eat the fallen birdseed from our table and the peanuts that we put out. The sidhe are active at their special spots, over by the burial mound as they are at each of the fire festivals. It is a time of celebration, though there is still much work to be done…

Continue to the full article HERE